Thursday, August 27, 2009

'Put your records on..'

Apple today signed off on the use of an iPhone app for Spotify, the European music streaming service where suscribers - it's free if you put up with ads - "rent" rather than "own" content.

This crucial question, rent vs own, is what will ultimately define the future of music distribution. The big labels are wondering how they can get consumers to pay for the same product over again, as in the vinyl-CD-online transitional gravy-train of the last decade, but that's not going to fly this time, since the market has already passed it by.

It's probably true that people my age prefer to 'own' music in whatever format - whether that's because we like to read lyrics on the album sleeve, or we like to make mix CDs for the car - but there's a generation of consumers that not only doesn't care about ownership, but is driven purely by ephemeral utility.

They want to hear a specific track now, share it with their friends or embed it into their current playlist while its hot, for the next week or so. Then they want to move onto the next thing.

It seems like the next logical step here is voice-recognition - Apple iTunes already has this facility in Speakables which allows you to select a track by speaking its name - and a combination of that with Spotify would allow users to audibly request a song and have it play, instantly, whether they own it or not.

For my generation, we'll continue to stack our thousands of CDs against the wall and never be able to find what we're looking for. And we'll be happy, dammit, 'cause we own all this great music. If only we knew where it was.

But don't forget, it was the generation before mine that came up with the idea of "renting" music. It was called the jukebox.

And on the subject of transient recorded media, there's a store here in Brooklyn called the Record and Tape Center. It's a great old store where you can browse boxes of vinyl and CDs and unearth untold treasures at decent prices.

A couple of weeks ago, they ended up putting a huge - I mean, huge - box of cassette tapes out on the sidewalk with a note saying "free, please take".

When you're giving away half of the name of your business, you better hope people will still want to buy the other half.


Nice piece in the Telegraph today about the rise of 'living-room gigs' as well as a nod towards the increasing numbers of old fogeys like me playing music, and, as I mentioned yesterday, providing a ready market for the Beatles edition of Rock Band.


Coming to this a little late, but here's a really great fan-video for Grizzly Bear's track 'Two Weeks', put together by Gabe Askew. The band's Ed Droste gave the animator props on Twitter.


  1. As long as the rental (or advertising) fee is cheep enough I have a feeling folks are becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of renting rather than owning what they use. The transition to licensed digital content has been bumpy at best and still more understood (wished for) by the sellers than the buyers. But you can see the willingness to accept a more loose sense of ownership with things like like Salesforce and Google Aps. The question really ends up being one of investment. Can I trust you will keep prices low. (no) Can I get my personal data out of your system with little trouble. (sometimes) If I own it, I should be able to move it, but even that is a problem right now.

    As a diehard book buyer and CD stacker I'm learning the hard way the true cost in space this stuff takes up. (Plus the boxes are incredibly heavy.

  2. All good points, Fred. Good to hear from you again.
    I agree on trending rent vs own - and that's an important caveat on price.
    I think also that the Pandora model shows music consumption patterns are changing among the demographics you might think would be most resistant.
    All the best.

    incidentally, when I moved from London to New York, I paid about $5k to ship my belongings which, apart from furniture, were mostly CDs and books, so in a weird way, I ended up paying again for content I already owned...

  3. Just a far-fetched hypothesis, but what if music distribution stops all together being the big engine of music sales and concerts go back to the money makers?